Whitehot Magazine

Finding Materials for the Arts

 A rack of frames at Materials for the Arts


Finding Materials for the Arts

I first discovered Materials for the Arts, which is operated by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, when taking a class with Fred Wilson called “The Business of Being an Artist” at Just Above Midtown Downtown, a non-profit art space in Tribeca. in 1982.

At the time I was making collages with 3M’s Scotch Transparent Tape and found out that if I was showing at a non-profit space in New York I could apply to the company to grant me materials in exchange for a tax deduction and mention on the organizations donor’s list.

As a struggling artist, this concept seemed much better than buying materials. The former director, artist Jill Moser, told me how to solicit the materials from 3M in Minnesota and invited me to exhibit in the Spare Parts exhibition, using the materials that I received.

Spare Parts opened at City Gallery, a striking space in the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs headquarters (now the Museum of Art and Design) at Columbus Circle on May 18, 1983.

Over the next decade, I went on to make many more tape transfer collages—a name that I coined for these postmodernist works—and successfully exhibited them in solo shows in Chicago, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, New York, Boston, St. Louis, London and Paris.

I recently returned to Materials for the Arts, now located in a 35,000-square-foot warehouse in Long Island City, for the exhibition MFTA loves NYC: A Retrospective of Creative Reuse—which includes one of my 1983 collages made with the tape that I received—to find a place chock full of supplies just waiting to be put to artistic use.

There are frames donated by galleries; cast out artist’s easels; rolls upon rolls of fabric, bins full of finials, zippers and ornaments; overhead projectors; boxes full of post cards and greeting cards; never-used jumbo tin cans; mannequins; stacks of paper and office supplies; cans of usable paint; and much more.

Even if you don’t know what you want to make, this place could inspire you to put this together with that and make something new, or as Jasper Johns once famously said about the creative process, “It's simple, you just take something and do something to it, and then do something else to it. Keep doing this, and pretty soon you've got something.”  

Artists, as well as non-profit organizations, continuously need materials—that’s why Materials for the Arts is still here. 

Scroll through the images below to view some of the things that are currently available at the Materials for the Arts. WM

Easels at Materials for the Arts

Rolls of fabric at Materials for the Arts

Bins of finials at Materials for the Arts

Bins of zippers at Materials for the Arts

Overhead projectors at Materials for the Arts

Post cards and greeting cards at Materials for the Arts

Tin cans at Materials for the Arts

Mannequins at Materials for the Arts

Christmas ornaments at Materials for the Arts

Materials for the Arts is a participant in the Frieze Education program for Frieze New York 2015, which gives high school students and children from underserved communities across all five boroughs access to arts programs, with a combination of workshops and tours for school groups.




Paul Laster

Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.



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